Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday slowdown

Are we ready to let God use our lives, as Esther did?

There’s a dawn arising on a brand new day
There’s a strong wind stirring ‘cross the ancient graves
There’s a voice that’s calling ‘will you be set free?’
There’s a change a coming
Let it start in me

Let it start in me
Let it start in me
There’s a change a coming 
Let it start in me

There’s a fire that’s burning sweeping ‘cross this land
There’s a heat consuming every evil plan
There is gold emerging from refining flame
There’s a diamond sparkling
Where there once was shame

There’s a revolution gathering o’er the sea
We all know it’s coming people must be free
Feel the tides feel the tides a changing
Hear the waves roll in
Let this revolution wash away our sin

Let it start in me
Let it start in me
There’s a change a coming 
Let it start in me

There’s a storm a brewing 
There’s the sound of rain 
When the thunder’s rumbling ‘cross the thirsty plain
Let the drought be over if we just believe that the rains are coming
Let it rain on me

Thursday, October 20, 2016

For such a time as this, conclusion

What an awesome study this has been! I hope you have been blessed by it; I have learned so much myself!
Today we are concluding our look at the book of Esther, and we'll focus on our main character . . .

With the help of her uncle, who was really a step-dad to her (wowser, that is a lesson right there, is it not? How many of us or our friends are step-parents.....what an awesome responsibility that is, and here is evidence that love and instruction can make a huge difference in young people's lives!) .....
I got off track there, didn't I?
OK, back to my thought -- with Mordecai's help, Esther understood that God had placed her in a position to make a difference. She was able to model extreme courage for those of us who could use an example when our faith is teetering on the edge of I-don't-think-I-can-do-that. Esther bravely did something that could have caused her own death.

I guess that one of the greatest lessons from this story is that God has placed EACH ONE OF US in positions where we can influence others for good. We are never, ever insignificant. He has put all of us where we can make a difference. We are in our families for a particular reason. We are in our neighborhoods for a specific reason. We are in our churches and schools for God's purposes. We are to be salt and light; we are to influence lives; we are to communicate Christ's love to our fellow employees where we work. No one else can do exactly the same job that we can do. There is a God-given purpose for our lives, and He placed us there for a very important reason. We might not see it now. But God never does things by accident!

We may grumble sometimes about our job. We may complain about our school, or mumble under our breath about things at church. Sometimes we should -- maybe there is something constructive that needs to happen after we complain!
So let's not carp so much that we miss out on opportunities to do His work. Behind each and every circumstance in our lives is a greater purpose than what we can see right now. Perhaps we are on a committee at school or at church. It's not easy to stand up and speak, but our input may be just what is needed! Maybe we are waiting at the oil change place, or at a doctor's office. Is there an opportunity to speak up for God when you hear or engage in a conversation?

Sometimes I think that God has placed us where we are, not simply to read a magazine while we wait, or listen to a conversation and not say a word for Him. Perhaps the people around us have been placed in our lives for such a time as this. Utter a silent prayer for guidance and then take a holy risk. Watch what God can do with our lives! Of course, we may not see the fruits of our risk-taking, at least not until heaven. We never know what long-term effect our words and prayers will have.

Did you notice something in this book?
Even though we can see evidence of God's presence behind the scenes, His name is not mentioned in the book of Esther. He is not visible, but He is working His will . . . . He brought Esther to Persia, and made her grow up to be a lovely and personable young woman who would win the "beauty pageant." He placed her as queen, and placed Mordecai in just the right spot to overhear the plot to assassinate the king. He may even have used Esther's cooking to keep the king up at night so he'd hear the story of Mordecai saving his life! And he made sure that Haman was in the palace at the right moment, so that Mordecai would be honored.

Perhaps we need to focus on looking for God's leading each day. If we expect to see Him at work in our lives, we will be surprised at how many times we will have the opportunity to serve Him! There are no "coincidences" with God, and our lives are filled with divine appointments, not accidents.

What does He have planned for you and for me, today?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

For such a time as this, continuing

The book of Esther certainly has been an emotional roller-coaster ride, hasn't it?  We have met some people who have been good, some who've been bad, and one that was downright ugly! (Grin) Haman was a mess, wasn't he?

In the first part of the book, we saw a queen take a courageous stand. Vashti took a moral stand. Remember her part of the story? She knew that her morals would have been compromised if she had walked around in that room full of drunken men. She decided not to cross the line, because she felt like it was the wrong thing to do.

What about us? Do we need to take a moral stand in our relationships? Is there someone who is trying to get us to compromise? Maybe it's a compromise of sexual standards. Maybe it's integrity. Maybe it's a question of how we treat people. Don't give in. Take a stand! We must hold our ground . . . if we have already crossed the line, we can ask God for forgiveness and make a fresh commitment. It's never, ever too late for that. Perhaps we've been talking to ourselves and justifying our compromise, but deep inside the Spirit is telling us that we are doing wrong. We need to quit trying to fool ourselves and live in God's ways.

That doesn't mean it's easy! In fact, sometimes it can be awfully controversial. And it can definitely make us unpopular. Doing the right thing can have some unpleasant consequences in the short term. Look at Queen Vashti . . . she did the right thing, but she lost her position of royalty and power. No more influence. Probably not as much wealth. She was banished from the kingdom. If we take a moral stand in sexual matters, or in matters of finances or integrity, or in matters of how we treat other people, we may be made fun of. We may lose some "friends." We may be ridiculed. We may lose some wealth, too. It requires courage.

Is it worth it?
You bet it is!

Did we see someone else in the story take a stand? We sure did. Mordecai.
Mordecai was willing to take a spiritual stand. Mordecai was a man who was devoted to his faith, and to his God. He had surrendered his life to God, and he wasn't willing to worship, or bow down to, anyone or anything else. It wasn't an easy stand to take. Think about him, seeing Haman coming down the street, and all of the people bowing to him. Think about the courage that it took, to be the ONE person who didn't bow down!

It takes courage to be a Christian in today's world, too. It takes courage for some of us to go to church. It takes courage for us to check out this faith that we see in others. It takes courage to turn our lives over to Jesus . . . we must have the courage to admit that we are sinners. To admit that we need God.
Then it takes courage to face those sins, and that holy God, and ask Him to forgive us. And then, when we receive Him into our lives, it takes courage to follow Him.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
Do you and I have the courage of Mordecai? Will we stand up and be counted as a follower of Christ?
Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32)
Do the people around us even know that we are Christians? Let's be like Mordecai and speak up.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Verses that inspire us


Our verse at the close of our study yesterday was an inspiring one:
 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)
Can you hear her heart beating as she walks down the corridor to the huge doors? As they swing open, do you hear her take a deep breath?

Oh, the relief she must have felt, when the king smiled and pointed his scepter in her direction! He asks her what is her request -- he tells her that if she would like it, he will give her half of his kingdom! Esther simply asked for him to come to a special banquet in her quarters, and to bring his second in command, Haman, with him. After their sumptuous meal, the king asks again what she would like from him. This brave lady was a master of suspense -- she tells him to come back (and bring Haman) tomorrow for another feast, and she will tell him.

Can't you just picture Haman, strutting around? I bet he feels mighty important; he is the only one that has been invited to eat with the king and queen, and he gets to do it again tomorrow! In fact, chapter five notes that he is in "high spirits."
Oh, what a bummer, though.
As he is leaving, he spots Mordecai at the gate. And Mordecai not only doesn't bow to him, like all the rest, he doesn't even acknowledge Haman. All of the joy gets sucked out of the moment for ole Haman. He is so mad! He just can't wait for the king's decree to be accomplished. When he gets home, he tells all of his friends about his importance. He tells his wife and the others that he is going back tomorrow for the second dinner -- but it's so bothersome that he has to see Mordecai at the gate.

Well, his wife and his friends are just as bad as he. They advise him to build a huge gallows - scaffolding that is about seventy-five feet high! And then, they say, he should ask the king to hang Mordecai from it. After all, a fellow that eats with the royal family surely deserves to have his enemy done away with, right? Haman probably couldn't sleep that night, from the anticipation of having Mordecai gone.

There is someone else who can't sleep, though. Perhaps the king ate too much at Esther's banquet, but he was restless and couldn't sleep well. He thought that some dry, boring reading might soothe him to sleep, so he instructed one of his servants to read from the official records. Just as he started to doze off, he heard about what Mordecai had done a few months earlier, and he realized that he'd not rewarded him for his loyalty. How embarrassing! He needed to do something special for Mordecai.

The first person to the court a few hours later was Haman, so that he could talk about hanging Mordecai. The king asked Haman a very simple question -- "What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?"
Haman was absolutely sure that the king was talking about him! He came up with an elaborate plan to clothe this person in a royal robe, sit him on the king's horse, and have him led around the streets of the city by one of the princes!
Well, the king liked that idea a lot, and told Haman to "make it so." To immediately get the robe, the horse, and do as suggested, but not for himself . . . for Mordecai the Jew!
I expect that he was in a pretty foul humor when he went to the palace that night for supper. Once again, the king asked Esther what she wanted, and this time she was ready to tell him.
Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. (Esther 7:3-4a)
Now, suddenly, the king realized that his beautiful bride was Jewish. Without realizing it, he had signed the queen's death warrant. He asked her who had dared to do such a thing, and she calmly replies that it is Haman.
Haman fell out of his chair, and the king went out of the room in a rage. When he came back into Esther's chambers, Haman was begging for his life -- but Persian etiquette forbade anyone from coming within seven paces of the queen . . . and Haman was leaning on her, on her couch. Oh boy! The king exclaims that Haman is "hitting on" his queen, and instructs the servants and soldiers to have him executed.
(Some scholars translate the verses to read that a pole had been erected, instead of a gallows, and that Haman was impaled upon it. Whether a gallows, or a pole, Haman was gone!)

The king responded to Esther's supplications and reversed the decree, so the Jewish people would not be killed. He even supplied the Jewish people with weapons so that they could defend themselves in the future. Because of the bravery of Esther, her people were saved!

We'll learn more from Esther tomorrow.....

Monday, October 17, 2016

For such a time as this, continued

Last week, we saw that Mordecai heard about (and revealed to Esther) a plot against King Xerxes (or Ahasuerus) of Persia. The assasins were foiled, and life went on . . .and it's recorded for us beginning with chapter four of the book of Esther. Yes, life went on....
Except that the king was fearful for his life now. So he shakes up his government, big time! He promotes a really slimy politician to be his right-hand man. (Does this sound anything like the politics of today? Just sayin.....)
Haman is the new fellow's name, and he is known as an "Agagite." That didn't ring a bell with me, either. (Grin)
So, it turns out that an Agagite is an "Amelikite." Remember them? They were enemies of God's people way back in the book of Exodus. You can check it out in chapter 17. The history is this: Saul was ordered by God to completely destroy the Amelikites in I Samuel 15. He disobeyed, and let the king of the Amelikite people live. Because of that, Saul lost his kingdom. And about 700 years later, his sin is still causing trouble for God's people.

This Haman was such an obnoxious guy. He demanded that everyone bow down before him whenever he walked by. No, I don't mean a nod, or a slight bend at the waist for the sake of politeness. He literally wanted everyone to bow down -- and they all did, except for one courageous guy: Mordecai, Esther's uncle. Because Mordecai was a Jew, and because he followed his God faithfully, he was committed to only bowing before God. To him, the verses in Exodus really meant something!

                  You shall have no other gods before me . . . You shall not bow down 
                   to them or worship them.... (Exodus 20:3-5)

Well, the fact that Mordecai didn't bow to him really bothered ole Haman. Got under his skin something fierce. And when he found out that Mordecai was a Jew, it brought back all of the bad feelings from his heritage. He decided to devise a plan to destroy Mordecai and all of the Jews that were scattered around in the Persian empire. Haman bribed the king and persuaded him to sign a decree to destroy all of the Jews on a set day in the month we call February. Young and old, women, men, children. Mordecai hears of the plan and begins to mourn.

He stops eating. He weeps and wails, and puts dust on his head. He substitutes coarse sackcloth for his everyday clothes, as a symbol of death and decay. When Queen Esther hears about it, she sends a messenger to ask what in the world is going on . . . apparently she hadn't heard about the decree yet.

What if we went home this evening and turned on the television, and the news anchor calmly said that on a certain day, all of the Christians in our country were to be killed.
How would we feel?
I have no doubt that Esther was upset about the decree. Mordecai pleads with her, to use her high position to take a stand, and to save her people.

                  Please go into the king's presence and beg for mercy and plead
                  with him for our people. (Esther 4:8)

Esther's first response was a fearful one. For one thing, no one knew that she was Jewish. For another, she knew what had happened when the former queen dared to go against the king. Plus, no one was allowed into his presence unless you had been summoned! In fact, unless you were summoned by him, and he pointed his scepter toward you, you could be put to death! Persian etiquette was no small or trivial matter, eh? Lastly, she told him, it had been about thirty days since she had seen the king.

Mordecai told her that she needed to "step up to the plate." He made a very convincing argument:
he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)
He's telling her, don't think that you will escape death when the killing happens . . you will be wiped out just like every other Jew in the kingdom because you are one of God's chosen people. And, he says, if  you don't do something, Esther, God will send someone else. Esther, you aren't indispensable, for God will accomplish His purpose. Mordecai is reminding her that God's plans will still move forward, but she could miss out on the opportunity to serve God and enjoy the blessings that come from that service. Besides, he says, God put you here for a reason -- for such a time as this!

Esther's courage picks up and her faith is encouraged. She knows that she cannot do this alone, so she calls on all of the Jews in Susa to pray and fast for three days. Then she tells Mordecai that she will go to the king. She is risking her life for her people -- "if I perish, I perish."

Did you see what happened here? The winner of the Persian beauty pageant just became a courageous woman of God!

We'll continue with Esther next time . . . stay tuned!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday slowdown

Do we sometimes feel weary?

Just tired of our "well doing?"

We have the best future to look forward to, that anyone can imagine!
Oh well, I'm tired and so weary
But I must go alone
Till the lord comes and calls, calls me away, oh yes
Well the morning's so bright
And the lamp is alight
And the night, night is as black as the sea, oh yes
There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There'll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me
Well the bear will be gentle
And the wolves will be tame
And the lion shall lay down by the lamb, oh yes
And the beasts from the wild
Shall be lit by a child
And I'll be changed, changed from this creature that I am, oh yes
There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There'll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me
I love the old hymns as well as the new songs. I thought this was a precious song, and wanted to share it with you all.

Blessings to all, and a pleasant weekend . . .

Thursday, October 13, 2016

For such a time as this, part III

(Just a note here for everyone's enjoyment. I had more than one person who commented and left lovely feedback, but I couldn't express my thanks personally, because their settings were on no-reply. If you would like to check your own, like I did, simply google search "edit blogger profile" and then on your profile page, click to "show my email address." It won't show for the world, don't worry about that. It will show for the blogger to be able to respond to you. IMPORTANT: Go all the way down to the bottom and save! All should be well.)

So far in our story, we have a new queen for Xerxes, and we've watched as a new holiday has been declared, in Esther's honor.
Our verses have told us that Mordecai was a very dedicated uncle. He was concerned for Esther's welfare, and every day walked in a courtyard area that allowed him to know what was going on in the harem, and in the palace. The relationship between Mordecai and Esther seems to be a close one; he cared for her, and she truly valued and followed his advice.
Perhaps she always made sure she was visible from the courtyard, and he could see her, and know that she was well. Perhaps one or two of her attendants were trusted with carrying messages. They didn't have emails or texts, but they managed to stay close and communicate with each other. How important that is, in any relationship!
 Let's see what happens next:
When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 20 But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.
21 During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. 22 But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. 23 And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king. (Esther 2:19-23)

Mordecai must have had some role in the leadership of the people. It says that he "sat" at the gate, and we've discussed before that means a role in judging disputes and giving counsel to the people.

So, while he's on the job, he overhears two hot-heads who are mad at the king. They're talking about their plan to kill Xerxes! Mordecai listens carefully to the two would-be assassins, and gets all the details. When he is sure that he has all of the particulars, he makes certain to tell Queen Esther -- on one of his visits to the courtyard.
Esther tells the king about the plot, and gives the credit to her uncle Mordecai. The trembling nobles are brought in, and all of the plan is laid bare. Once the investigation is finished, and the report is found to be true, the two officials are killed.
And keep this in mind . . . it says that this was recorded in the book of annals.
It doesn't say that King Xerxes rewarded the man who saved his life. Just that it all was in the book now. Sure seems like he should have thanked Mordecai, don't you think? He should have felt that it was his duty to acknowledge that his life had been saved, and show some gratitude!

Have there been times in our lives when we have been overlooked? That we've contributed mightily but been un-thanked? When significant things happen, and we're not on the receiving end of some gratitude, how do we react?
Do we become irritated? Resentful? Spiteful?
Do we remain gracious? Calm? Showing the fruits of the Spirit?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. (Galations 5:22-23a)
It seems that Mordecai simply continued being himself, and didn't get bent out of shape. And we'll see what happens, when we continue in Esther next week!